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I am off-gas and on benefits. Can I get help replacing broken storage heaters?

Posted by Tasha Kosviner on 26 March 2014 at 8:41 am

Q. My mother is an 87-year old who lives by herself in her own home and is in receipt of pension credit. Her home is run on electricity and she has three storage heaters. One of these broke a while ago and last week the one in the front room broke. She now has just one working heater which is in the hall. She is also using a two-bar electric fire and a small portable electric oil heater. Is there any help available for her to buy new storage heaters?

A. As someone who is in receipt of pension credit, your mother is technically entitled to support under the government’s energy company obligation (ECO) scheme.

The scheme, delivered by the big energy companies, currently replaces broken or inefficient gas boilers free of charge, but if you are one of the four million households in the UK that are off the gas grid, this isn't much help.

However, under some proposed changes it is hoped that the scheme may be adjusted to make it more cost effective for energy companies to include the replacement of storage heaters too. This proposal, along with many other planned tweaks to ECO, is currently under consultation and unfortunately it is unlikely that the changes will come into effect before 2015.

In the meantime, how well insulated is your mother's house? You may be able to reduce the pain of using expensive electric heaters by improving her home's insulation and under ECO she will be able to get some help with this.

Free or heavily subsidised loft or cavity wall insulation is available for people on pension credit.  To start the process for getting help under ECO call the government’s energy saving advice service on 0300 123 1234.

There are also grants available under the government's green deal cashback scheme to help with solid wall insulation, double glazing, draught proofing, room-in-roof insulation and other energy saving measures. However, you can only claim up to two thirds of the cost of the work and you need to have a green deal assessment done first in order to qualify. 

Unfortunately, while these may help with your mother's situation, from an objective point of view, there's no escaping the fact that electric and storage heaters remain an expensive, carbon intensive way to heat any home.

There are alternatives, albeit with a cost attached. Off gas grid homes that are sufficiently insulated are prime candidates for the installation of renewable heat systems, such as air source heat pumps.

Once you have absorbed the cost of installation, an air source heat pump is a great, low carbon way of keeping your home warm while using around a third of the power of electric heaters.

Whilst the cost of installing a renewable heating system, starting at around £3500, can be intimidating, there is some financial help available for those wishing to go down this route.

The domestic renewable heat incentive (which is due to launch in April 2014) helps to reduce the cost difference of installing renewable heating systems compared to traditional fossil fuel heating. Regular payments will be made to owners of renewable heating systems for seven years as an incentive to installation.

However even with these added incentives, the cost of installing an air source heat pump system may still be beyond the budget  - or inclination - of an elderly person on pension credit. If this is the case, addressing any insulation problems and then either paying for new storage heaters herself, or hoping for the proposed ECO changes to be taken up, is probably your best hope.

More information

YouGen guide to the energy company obligation

YouGen guide to renewable heat incentive

YouGen guide to heat pumps

From the blog

Solid wall insulation to suffer under proposed changes to ECO (March 2014)

What help can I get with heating under the affordable warmth scheme? (Nov 2013)

What does it cost to run an electric heater? (Feb 2012)

How to get started with the green deal (June 2013)

When to consider using an air source heat pump (Dec 2010)

An introduction to air source heat pumps (Nov 2010)

Photo Credit: kevin dooley via Compfight cc

If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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Comments

5 comments - read them below or add one

Tasha Kosviner

Tasha KosvinerComment left on: 2 July 2014 at 3:39 pm

Further to my earlier comment, we now have more information on the green deal home improvement fund, which launched on June 9 and yes, you can get help replacing broken storage heaters. Click here to read our section on the fund and click here for more information on how to apply.  

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Tasha Kosviner

Tasha KosvinerComment left on: 6 May 2014 at 11:39 am

Here's an update to the above blog: As of June 2014, there may be help available replacing broken storage heaters, under the newly announced green deal home improvement fund (GDHIF). Have a look at this link and look out for another YouGen blog on GDHIF coming soon. 

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Tasha Kosviner

Tasha KosvinerComment left on: 4 April 2014 at 1:59 pm

Hello TinaF

You're right, storage heaters are complicated to use.

Modern slimline fan assisted stoarge heaters tend to be better insulated so are better able to hold the heat until you want it. This means that they are less likely to run out of stored heat created at the cheaper overnight rate, and start drawing power during the day to keep up to temperature. 

Modern systems oftern have more controllable heat output (how much heat is released during the day) so you can heat a room up more quickly or keep it cool if you're not using it.

Modern controls can also automatically set the input (how much electricity is drawn overnight) and output according to your preferred room temperature, the actual room temperature and even the temperature outside. However, it is important to ensure that the input is effectively adjusted so you do not end up using peak time electricity to keep the room up to temperature. 

Systems with these 'intelligent' controls are sometimes known as Celect type controls.

I have heard that Dimplex and Creda are both reliable brands although you should do your own research as well. 

Good luck!

Tasha

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TinaF

TinaFComment left on: 3 April 2014 at 10:36 am

I am currently helping an elderly relative in a similar situation - off gas grid, broken electric storage heaters, limited income - to make a choice about what to do. In her case, getting new storage heaters is the only realistic option in terms of capital cost. So, I am trying to identify those which will use the least amount of energy in her situation - almost constant occupation of the home, and very  limited ability to manage controls. She keeps the house warm, and I have been there with heaters on and windows open - so I think there is some opportunity for saving energy by reducing over-heating.

It seems getting heaters with an 'automatic charge regulator' - which prevents them taking in too much heat overnight if the room is still warm - could save energy (according to the manufacturers anyway). There are fan-assisted storage heaters, but the main benefit of these seems to be to providing a heat boost when you need it - not relevant for my relative. There are also storage heaters controlled by a room thermostat - whether these would save energy in this situation I don't know.

There doesn't seem to be much independent advice available on how to choose the right storage heater and controls.

 

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Boiler Breakdown Cover

Boiler Breakdown CoverComment left on: 31 March 2014 at 6:08 pm

Great comments, very thorough

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